Let’s get this out of the way first: The worst part of Evil Urges is the admittedly crapola cover art. But then, nobody buys records these days anyhow, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem (oh, how we kid — besides, Coverflow). Seriously, though — parts of My Morning Jacket’s fifth studio album are schizo (“Highly Suspicious,” anyone?) but the 13 tracks (and tiny, screeching “Good Intentions” sample that close the record) eventually do congeal into a powerful whole. If you give it some time. There are more than a few immediate standouts like the excellent title track (we’ve all heard that one by now) and a couple songs that lodged themselves into our eardrums the moment we heard them at Jim James’ pin-drop quiet SXSW solo set: The instantly classic, post-James Taylor “Sec Walkin’” (“left leg, right leg, one leg at a time, I keep on walkin’….”) and beautifully emotional, Rocky Mountain high “Look At You” (“such a glowing example of peace and glory…”). The latter would be comfortable on any soft rock station, and felt especially fitting when we listened to it in church, but each track has enough power to kick it like the bad-ass Kentucky roots-rock it is…
What else? How can you not love the reverberant sexy librarian story, “Librarian” and its patient scene sketching (the insects, the stairwell, and the hall of books, “since we got the Interweb, these [books] hardly get used…”), dissection of mirrors (“when God gave us mirrors he had no idea”), Karen Carpenter (see mirrors), and plea for the bookworm to please take off her glasses and let down her hair. It’s Kristofferson smooth, then they bring on the sleigh bells and strings. EU’s not all quiet epiphany. If James still had long hair, he’d been letting it fly during the feedbacking/soloing “Aluminum Park” (totally catchy cord changes here) and “Remnants,” which opens with a dub echo before blasting outward with a riff, sorry, that sounds a tad Kravitz in its bluesiness. Outside of that, across the record, the guitars constantly drip with gorgeousness.
Favorites include the aforementioned “Sec Walkin’,” “Look At You,” “Smokin’ From Shootin’”’s Head-y crescendo, the Southern-fried sing-a-long “I’m Amazed” and the gentle, grooved Crosby, Stills, and Nash-ness of “Thank You, Too” (yeah, it’s pretty lite, but it’s also pretty pretty). And, how about the smoothed, shuffling, synthesized, and double-tracked “It Beats For You”-cousin “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream,” and its partner, the bulkier, carnival-organ and funky drum revisioning of previously previewed “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Part 2,” etc. These are good songs.
Evil Urges isn’t steeped in their signature reverb and there isn’t as much jamming as you’ll find on It Still Moves. But it finds MMJ continuing their Z-zagging path through myriad musical genres, moving away from past sounds into a newer realm, while still maintaining enough of what drew us to them in the first place. Now, though, when we say Fleet Foxes or Band Of Horses sound like MMJ, we’ll have to qualify it: They sound like MMJ used to sound. “I’ve gotten tired of normal rock & roll sounds,” James recently told Rolling Stone. “My ultimate goal is to hopefully turn people on to different types of music.” Well we’re digging Evil Urges, Jim, and we’d classify it as “different.” So, you win.
Now that that’s out of the way: We still don’t know what to make of “Highly Suspicious.” On second thought, a peanut butter pudding surprise does sound high-ly del-ici-ous.
Evil Urges is out 6/10 on ATO.